May 18, 2024 

Updated: WNBA opens investigation into bonus payments for Las Vegas Aces players

Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority is paying each Aces player $100,000

On Saturday, The Next’s Howard Megdal reported that the WNBA had opened an investigation into $100,000 bonus payments made to each player on the Las Vegas Aces.

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The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA) recently surprised the Aces players by telling them about the plan to pay each player $100,000. The city posted a video of that announcement on the social media platform X on Friday.

According to Callie Lawson-Freeman of the Las Vegas Review-Journal, the players signed sponsorship contracts that operate like name, image and likeness deals at the NCAA level. The Review-Journal also reported that the contracts were negotiated with players’ agents and without the team’s knowledge to avoid breaking WNBA rules.

“A life-changing investment!” Aces guard Sydney Colson wrote on X. “We’re SO appreciative and love representing this city!”

The agreement includes provisions that players will receive branded gear to market the city and must appear at some events. However, LVCVA president and CEO Steve Hill also told the players in the video, “The offer’s really simple. We want you to just play, we want you to keep repping Las Vegas, and if you get a three-peat, that’ll be icing on the cake.”

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After the Aces’ win over the Los Angeles Sparks on Saturday, head coach Becky Hammon and star forward A’ja Wilson were asked about the investigation. Hammon pointed out the uniqueness of a sponsorship deal extending to all 12 players rather than to one or two stars but denied knowledge of the agreement beyond that.

“I don’t know the detail,” she told reporters. “I have nothing to do with it. The Aces don’t have anything to do with it.”

Wilson explained why she believes that the deal is good for the game and the league more broadly.

“We get brought things from our agents all the time. So they wanted it to be a big moment because it’s something that’s never happened before,” she said. “So I don’t understand that investigation. I haven’t really dived into it yet. I just looked at my phone and was like, Oh, wow, just another thing in the life of the Aces. We can’t ever start just normal. It’s always going to be something, and that’s OK.

“But when we’re talking about growing the game or we’re talking about taking that next step, it can’t always be investigate, investigate, investigate. It has to kind of be like, OK, we’re trying to move the needle. We’re trying to make things better for franchises, for players, for teams. So it’s still a question mark to me. But … I am super grateful to be in a franchise in a city that constantly wants more out of us, that wants us to just [not] worry about stuff, just go play and go win and have fun in that. So I’m blessed with or without the $100,000, because at the end of the day, we’re going for something bigger than that, and we’re going to continue to do that.”

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The Aces faced accusations of salary cap circumvention and mistreatment in early 2023, before winning their second straight WNBA championship. The WNBA investigated the team for circumventing the salary cap, and former Aces forward Dearica Hamby, who now plays for the Sparks, accused Las Vegas of discrimination and manipulation.

The league’s investigations found that the Aces had violated team and league “Respect in the Workplace policies” as well as league “impermissible benefits” policies. As a result, the WNBA suspended Hammon for two games and rescinded the Aces’ first-round draft pick for 2025.

The Next’s Matthew Walter contributed reporting for this story.

Written by Aya Abdeen

Aya Abdeen is a student in sports journalism at Arizona State University and has been a contributing writer for The Next since December 2022. She is also a sports reporter for the Sun Devils’ women’s basketball team for The State Press. Her work has also appeared on AZPreps365.

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